Artemis launching at night

The Moon race, part 2, is back.

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

The first part took place in the 1960s, it started with JFK’s plan to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Kennedy, and the whole United States, I guess, were humiliated by the Soviet space success, like the first satellite (Sputnik 1), and, even more painful, the first man in space.

America’s answer with their man in space wasn’t even complete at the time, it was a ‘dive’ into space by Alan Shepard, while Yuri Gagarin made a full orbit of the planet.

So, the US, being more advanced technologically anyway, were desperate to show their advance in space. After years of the fierce Moon race, America had its triumph on July 20, 1969, with Neil Armstrong saying; ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Soviet Union lost the race because their heavy rocket, N1, wasn’t reliable, unlike America’s Titan 5. There were other technical and technological issues, too, on the Soviet side.

After that, Soviet propaganda declared something like: we don’t need a man on the Moon because automatic landers can do the job cheaper.’ This is exactly what my mother told me in the early 80s when I asked her, being a 7-year-old kid, why it was Americans, not us, making it to the Moon. She worked for a state company that was designing space rocket launcher systems. America’s success was downplayed by the losing side. In fact, the Soviet Union never developed a capacity to land on the Moon, even after the Americans has a series of Apollo missions up to 1973.   

Artemis on pad

Now it is America against China. Europe is on the US side, and Russia, after losing its own Moon race because of financial and, again, technological issues, is trying to stick with China in hope of getting some future benefits, too.

The prize is huge. Among the Moon’s natural resources there’s Helium-3 that can be used for as a fuel for nuclear fusion reactors of tomorrow. It may be much cheaper to be utilized on the Moon compared to the Earth so this could be a backbone of the lunar economy with new fantastic mining technologies invented in-situ. Plus, there is water in shape of ice also useful for future permanent lunar settlements, and travels beyond the Earth-Moon system as the United States counts on its SLS/Orion pair as a first practical step to go to Mars, and back.

To make a long story short, the first one who gets Helium-3 and other REM (rare Earth metals), will benefit most from the future energy revolution. So the prize is much more than  just a symbolic ‘we-are-the-first-to-be-back-on-the-Moon!’ I also think that some spin-off technologies might be invented just like it happened as an outcome of the first Moon race.

China is very ambitious, too, as it tries to show advantages of its economic system. The new Moon race could be a great symbol of who has the tech superiority in space. This adds a lot to the soft power, too.

I think that the Artemis project puts the United States in the driving seat in this space race. I also believe that, eventually, the West will prevail with China also landing on the moon soon after, making some settlements there, too, but still being one step behind.

However, there won’t be a single winner in this competition in the long term. Anyone who makes it to the Moon to utilize its natural resources, will eventually reap the space harvest.

Our Shared Future

Photograph of Dean Lewis

If you would have asked the younger version of me about space in 2022 I would have told you, with a great deal of confidence, that we would have several villages on the Moon by now. There would even be an outpost on Mars. 

I’m not really sure why mankind is going back to the moon now. With Populism on the rise, I would be tempted to think that we would all be looking inward. War, a poor economic outlook, and broken supply chains all conspire to drain hope in a better future. 

Artemis is not a cure for these plagues but it can shine a light on future possibilities. It will also serve as a distraction for the mob. Nationalists will want to see their own countries flag on the moon too. I’m guessing several countries, and China in particular, will want bigger, more ambitious outposts than the evil Americans sooner rather than later. This will drive the Americans forward.

The US Space program has had a real problem over the last fifty-years: the US Congress. Let’s take the Shuttle Program as an example. NASA’s original Shuttle design was brilliant. It took the entire space plane concept to the next level. Of course, Congress destroyed it. What we got instead was a hybrid rocket/glider that never adequately filled either role. When things went predictably wrong, it never occurred to these fine people why NASA devised such a poor spacecraft.

As an aside, the exact same thing happened to the Space Station. NASA’s vision was for a bigger and more capable station. It included things like a garage where satellites would be brought in, upgraded and refuelled, then returned to orbit using a small, unmanned tug. This would have been a source of income for the station. 

So, wanna guess what I’m about to say about Artemis? Yeah, NASA was under the thumb of Congress again and the result is the same old crap. Using technology developed for the failed Shuttle program, NASA saved money. Now we have this rocket that cost a billion dollars a launch and is based on 1980’s technology. Shuttle engines (an engine used in a Shuttle flew again this time), the orange Shuttle fuel tank, and the accounting firm of Boeing & Boeing sing the same old song. I understand Boeing used to be in the Aerospace business. Despite the slogan, we are not going back to the moon to stay in this monstrosity. In fact, it can’t land on the moon at all.

Orion capsule and moon

From the above you would be tempted to think I’m against the whole return to the moon thing. Not at all. What I’m against is having the same bunch running the show. Congress doesn’t give a damn about the space program; they are interested in how many vendor facilities can be built in the right congressional districts. How much money can we drain. It’s all about the lettuce, baby.

But, despite the best efforts of small men, there is real reason for optimism. Across North America and Europe, even Australia, there are a number of start-ups going to space. These are serious companies with real hardware. Dynamic companies like ULA, SpaceX, Rocketlab, Relativity, and many more are going to lap NASA shortly. Blue Origin is a waste of perfectly good liquid hydrogen. 

Want to know a little secret? NASA knows this and is quietly cheering for these private ventures. They are launching a number of little incubator programs to give these companies some funding to help in the process. While Elon Musk basks in all the glory, the hard truth is SpaceX would have gone bankrupt without help from NASA early on. 

Right now, NASA is operating a cubesat in orbit around the moon. This little guy was designed, built, and launched using private companies. Yes, NASA scientists were involved but it is a private affair and NASA paid them to make it happen.

Astronauts on Artemis are just going to visit. We will go back to the moon to stay but it will be on a private rocket; most likely Starship. That will change our shared future for the better. You can track Artemis live on the NASA Website. <> Go NASA!

Back to the Moon

Roger Bara

It does seem rather extraordinary that a full half-century since the last manned moon landing, NASA are at it again. 

A very different trip compared to 1972 – a much more round-a-bout route to our only satellite, with no humans on board that take up so much in terms of resources. But back we are going, and I only hope that nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, goes wrong. Otherwise, the lunatic fringe of flat-earthers and moon-landing-hoaxers will have a field day. They will shout through every orifice available that we are having difficulties with all our modern day 21st century technology, yet we are expected to believe it was all possible 50 years ago……… It really doesn’t bear thinking about.

I am all in favour of more space exploration. It most definitely will create new technological wonders for us to use on planet Earth. The short history of space exploration has seen numerous advances transferred to ground level like dialysis machines, insulin pumps, fire-retardant materials, hand-held computers and so much more. 

With manned missions in the pipeline, it could prepare us, eventually, for a much more complex trip to Mars. A permanent human presence on the Moon, something never contemplated by NASA in the last century, could pave the way for a trip to a planet that is some 200 times further away from us than the moon.

Artemis on launch day passing moon.

There’s also a great deal still to explore on the Moon itself, like the water-ice detected below ground in the polar regions. Also, astronauts can collect samples much quicker and more efficiently than robots. 

There’s also the inspiration that this kind of exploration provides, both for budding astronauts and potential scientists. 

As for my own country, well, the British Government established the U.K. Space Agency back in 2010, but the space programme has never included getting men and women into orbit. A few have, but mostly were privately funded. However, the U.K. is contributing to the Artemis programme through its membership of the European Space Agency, NASA’s key partner in the project.

So, I’m all for “Back to the Moon”, and I wish NASA every success, though I’m not convinced, in these troubled times down here on Earth, whether the funding will continue to be provided to enable us to get to Mars in the decades to come. The Moon will do for now.

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